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Sunday, July 15 2018

NFL Predictions 2008: Week 12

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I was heading for disaster through 10 games. Honestly it was one of those moments where I wonder why I bother making picks. At 3-7 against the spread and 5-4-1 straight up things were looking bleak. Then a funny thing happened. I almost won out starting with the late games until the lame MNF finish. In the end I was a decent 10-5-1 straight up (100-59-1 overall) in a week where I should have been better. Then again it serves me right for banking on a shocking Chiefs win at home over the somewhat contending Saints and for the Vikes to get it done at the Bucs. Against the spread I leveled out at 8-8 (84-68-8) and I’m still wondering why the Bills didn’t press on for the touchdown, and cover when down 29-27 facing a long field goal I windy conditions. I finished 12-4 on the over/under because well, I always turn in at least one sparking week (85-69-6 overall).

Cincinnati (1-8-1) @ Pittsburgh (7-3): pick PIT -10.5/under 37.5

I’m a bit frustrated with these NFL Network games. The past two weeks have been high scoring thrillers and I’ve missed on both. Thankfully this week looks like a lock. I watch a lot of ESPN and the scrolling at the bottom of the screen is sometimes mesmerizing. This week it noted three guards and tackle Levi Jones would be out for the Bengals. Not doubtful, questionable or probable as usually gets me in trouble when talking about injuries – out. When you remove four blockers from the equation against the nastiest defense in the NFL what do you think will happen? We already saw this movie once. In the first meeting the Steelers won 38-10 in Cincinnati’s house. The Bengals helped with only one turnover that day, but Fitzpatrick was sacked 7 times. Think the Steelers won’t be doing a little more of that?

There is good news for Cincinnati fans. I’m already earmarking them for a comeback season if they can come up with a solid draft and free agent season. I know they were 0-4 even with Palmer at quarterback, but let’s be realistic about this. They lost only one of those games by over 9 points and the Ravens, Titans, Giants and Cowboys might all be playing after week 17 is finished. Reclamation project Benson could be part of their solution at running back if he stays on course. Perhaps the only interesting storyline this week is Hines Ward getting popped a few times from Cincinnati defenders upset he broke the jaw of rookie linebacker Keith Rivers and ended his season. Their payback will only come in the form of late hits. I usually see these games as unusually close. This week the Steelers will establish a big lead and let their defense coast home. From the interesting stat department the Bengals have a better record the past two games (1-0-1 vs. 1-1). I have loved their fight, but this isn’t a team looking past them. It’s all business: Pittsburgh 27, Cincinnati 6


Houston (3-7) @ Cleveland (4-6): pick CLE -3/under 50.5

 

Both teams came into this season trying to achieve real success for the first time as the NFL’s two newest franchises. Well, sort of. The Browns re-entered the NFL in 1999 and the Texans joined in 2002 when the league went to a nifty new division format. Houston knew their climb would be uphill in the rugged AFC South. At 0-4 in division games it’s obvious they just can’t hang with Indianapolis, Jacksonville and Tennessee. Last year they were 1-5 during an 8-8 campaign so a little simple math tells us that since the start of 2007 the Texans are actually 10-6 when playing opponents outside of their division. That’s a wild card record, and reflects their potential in games like this. Then again, we can throw it out because Cleveland has the same mark outside of the North in the same span.

 

Another roadblock this season for the Texans was a hurricane delaying their home opener. This team has not traveled well all season starting with their 0-3 record when they finally played at Reliant Stadium on October 5. This will be their third road game this month and the past two ended in losses, albeit close ones to leave them 0-5. The defense takes a lot of the blame. It’s tough to win when you give up 28+ points in 80% of your games as they have this season. The two times they didn’t were two of their three wins. You might be surprised to find out this is the #5 ranked total offense in terms of yards gained, but a lot of it comes when they are playing from behind against teams playing soft. Cleveland’s defense has also staggered of late, and at home they haven’t won since their shocking 35-14 thumping of the Giants. They have a worse record at home (1-4) than on the road (3-2).

 

Each team will go with a backup quarterback. Rosenfels is a liability in the turnover department contributing heavily to the team’s 20 from the position. He threw 4 picks against the Ravens and everyone saw is disastrous 3 in the fourth quarter against the Colts. This is important because while neither pass defense has stood out much, the Browns have a 13-6 edge in interceptions. I won’t pretend to be a weather man here, but it’s safe to say the conditions will favor a few passes going wayward. Quinn might be making his third start with a broken tip of his index finger. I wasn’t really aware you could break just the tip. Along with not predicting the weather I’m also not a doctor. I don’t even play one on television. If he isn’t right they can always turn to Anderson so they are still in better shape. Both teams will be able to run. Before the Browns traded away their draft I projected them to take Steve Slaton. Now they face him. Again, in the likely conditions I favor a bruiser like Jamal Lewis. This might be one of the better games of the weekend even if it means nothing in the standings: Cleveland 27, Houston 23

 

Buffalo (5-5) @ Kansas City (1-9): pick KC +3.5/over 42.5

 

The Chiefs let me down last week. I thought they would stir a few echoes from seasons past at Arrowhead Stadium. Now I’m in the unenviable position of deciding if I was foolish to pick them to upset the Saints, who they trailed by 7 with just a few minutes to play, or simply a week early. The Bills are in an almost identical situation as New Orleans was. They are looking up at every team in the division despite a decent record and a loss would surely spell an end to any wild card hopes. Buffalo does bring a 2-3 road record (New Orleans had been 0-4) but also has to be reeling off an emotionally draining loss on MNF. I’m still wondering how a team can slam the ball into the line when faced with a long field goal in windy conditions instead of pressing on for another first down with plenty of time on the clock. You play to win the game right? Maybe Herm Edwards will tell Dick Jauron that during warm-ups.

 

One reason I doubted the Saints last week was their spotty situation at running back. Kansas City is dead last in run defense allowing 5.1 yards per carry. Marshawn Lynch finally went over 100 yards last week and in his defense it can be tough to reach that mark when you don’t get the ball 20+ times. The odds of breaking off a big run tilt in the running back’s favor when the carries pile up and the defense wears down. It was just his second 20+ carry game this season. He has gone over 100 yards four of the past six times. You can be sure he will get plenty of opportunities in this one. I don’t think the Bills really want their fate decided by Trent Edwards who now has 7 interceptions in their last three games and 10 turnovers during their current four game slide.

 

It’s really just a matter of time before Thigpen gets a win. They have been very close the past four weeks losing by an average of just 4.5 points. Two of those were on the road. The one thing I know about the Bills is that prior to last week’s loss to Cleveland they had been beating the struggling teams while losing to the good teams. After winning their first two on the road during their 5-1 start they have lost their past two, both against AFC East opponents. When it goes high scoring as it should I’m not sure the Chiefs are the more balanced team. Larry Johnson probably won’t go wild against this defense and Thigpen is still learning. Lynch and Edwards on the other hand, despite this recent slide, have the ability to hurt a shoddy defense: Buffalo 31, Kansas City 28

 

New England (6-4) @ Miami (6-4): pick NE +2/under 42.5

 

I wonder if Jason Taylor might regret leaving the Dolphins just a little bit. He’s on a contending team in Washington, but injuries have limited him to just 1 sack. In his stay with Miami every season this decade he had at least 8 ½. The void was filled by Joey Porter who previously had best been known for having his name confused with ex-Raider and current Jaguar backup wide receiver Jerry Porter. Yeah, I know he was big with Pittsburgh for a while. He was also referred to as washed up not long ago and a bust for a 1-15 team. Now he’s shooting off his mouth and backing it up. Does any fan of either team want to miss this rematch? Porter had 3 sacks in Miami’s 38-13 rout at New England. Cassel wasn’t even on the field at the end it got so bad and the Pats finished with 216 total yards. Didn’t they have quarters in 2007 with that many yards? Someone look that up for me right quick.

 

This is an emotional game to be sure. New England just lost one in OT to the Jets on sort of national television (NFL Network) and as a result had a couple extra days to prepare for this one. Miami certainly was looking ahead if you watched them stagger past the struggling Raiders 17-15. It’s a good thing Pennington woke them up for the game winning drive. Seeing them win by 2 points at home for the second consecutive week against 2-8 opponents has to make their fans a little worried. It’s nice to win four in a row, but the AFC East is looking very soft. Not long ago Buffalo was riding high and now they’re 5-5. The Patriots piled up over 500 yards in last week’s loss. Cassel looked like Vince Young in the Rose Bowl with 400 yards passing and 62 yards rushing. Analysts are talking about how much he’ll get paid by free agent suitors.

 

I don’t think the Dolphins are scary right now. The Pats are a couple plays away from having won five straight. Revenge is on their mind. On offense they can find a way, and on defense it is hard to imagine them allowing this creative yet still not overwhelming offense to push them around again. It has been a month since Miami allowed 20+ points and before facing Favre last week New England had allowed 51 in their previous four. I am looking for a low scoring game. Expect the unexpected. I have a hard time burying a team with so much experience. They shouldn’t win this game, but they will: New England 18, Miami 17

 

NY Jets (7-3) @ Tennessee (10-0): pick NYJ +6/under 41.5

 

Everyone wants to know when the Titans are going to falter. I’d just like to know what will happen when all of these old quarterbacks go the way of Brad Johnson all at once. Without much fanfare two of the top three active passers (Peyton Manning is the other) will square off in a game likely to be decided on defense. Favre loves to create big plays and often turns the ball over too much because of it. New York wants him play more conservatively. He has only one turnover in their last three games. Collins has been doing that all season. Two of his four turnovers were interceptions thrown against Baltimore’s stout defense. He hasn’t lost a fumble yet and has been sacked just 5 times. Then again, the Titans are not counting on him much. Last week’s comeback at Jacksonville silenced a few doubters in his ability to lead them from behind. He also passed for 289 yards the previous week at Chicago.

 

If the Jets want to win this game it starts with shutting down the run. Johnson and White have averaged a combined 29.9 carries for 125.7 yards a game. When two backs are doing the damage behind an effective line it can be difficult to shut them down. We saw some of that when the Giants ran over the Ravens. New York needs to stay conservative and stretch this game out into the fourth quarter. I’ve never thought of Favre as very patient though, and against a defense with 15 interceptions I think they will fall behind. Tennessee will be able to chip away with the run. They will not abandon it and behind a defense that has allowed more than 17 points just once all season you can see why. Let’s remember that the Jets are a few weeks separated from losing at Oakland. The team has looked great in piling up 135 points since, but the consistency isn’t there for me. The Titans are too sound. It will be a fight similar to the one Favre’s old Packers put up in Tennessee’s last game. In the end which quarterback is more likely to make the killer turnover? Sorry Brett, it’s you: Tennessee 17, NY Jets 13

 

Philadelphia (5-4-1) @ Baltimore (6-4): pick BAL +0/under 40

 

It has to hurt when a struggling team calls your offense predictable. The Eagles are at a serious crossroads. Their head coach has dealt with tough family problems and now faces questions about his regime having run its course. Even with four consecutive trips to the NFC Championship Game not far in the rearview mirror this league is about what you’ve done last week, not last year or a few years ago. At quarterback McNabb is the butt of jokes for not knowing the regular season overtime rule. More importantly his time with the team also might be coming to a close. He came to the Eagles with Reid and might exit at the same time. It would be a terrible move because he is still playing at a very high level on a team with considerable talent. Right now they are stuck in a difficult division and this week face a potential loss that will put their wild card hopes on life support.

 

The Ravens have had an interesting season. Their 3-0 record against the Ohio teams is what has them in the thick of the playoff race. They did stand toe to toe with Pittsburgh and Tennessee, losing both games by 3. However, last week’s 30-10 pounding at the hands of the Giants leaving me wondering if they might be overrated. Their four game burst came against Miami, Oakland, Cleveland and Houston – hardly the AFC elite. The impossible factor to overlook is their jarring defense. The Giants overwhelmed them with an offensive line playing out of their minds right now. The Eagles really don’t have that, and needless to say will not be attacking them by running the football anyway. Their game plan is short passes, but their best weapon in that department (Westbrook) is still on the mend. When he’s right there is no defense he can’t hurt.

 

Baltimore is home for the first time since before Halloween. Five of their previous six games have actually been on the road because of a rescheduling issue. They may have been a bit worn down last week. On their field opponents have scored 10, 10, 13 and 10 points this season. Philly is desperate, but they were desperate last week at Cincinnati too and that didn’t turn out very well. Their 13 points scored ended a string of games where they scored 40, 27, 26 and 31. I think their heart was broken a bit in a tough loss to the Giants. Against this defense they are unlikely to get it back. The Ravens will pound the ball at them until they break: Baltimore 17, Philadelphia 10

 

San Francisco (3-7) @ Dallas (6-4): pick DAL -9.5/under 48

 

These teams had some great games in the 90’s didn’t they? I still remember Michael Irvin trying to fire up his Cowboys after falling behind big at Candlestick Park in the NFC Championship Game. Now the central figure is again a Dallas wide receiver, but it’s an ex-49er Terrell Owens. He’ll be catching passes from Tony Romo who last week returned to the field in time to save his team’s season from the disastrous play of Brad Johnson. However, the team had scored 13, 13 and 14 points without Romo and they beat Washington 14-10. Perhaps the difference was more psychological. Romo had 2 interceptions and only 198 yards passing, but his 25 yard connection to rookie tight end Martellus Bennett was the difference.

 

The 49er offense has shown a little life since their bye week. In a mind numbing loss at Arizona and rout of St. Louis they have scored a combined 59 points. Some say Shaun Hill should have been their quarterback from the jump. I totally disagree. O’Sullivan was more prepared to handle the Martz offense and being allowed to observe for two months helped get Hill ready. Alex Smith’s future is very much in doubt and Hill has an excellent chance to hold onto the starting job for 2009. Against three divisional opponents in 2 ½ games he has thrown 83 passes with only 2 interceptions. He has lost one fumble and taken 4 sacks. O’Sullivan had been a turnover factory (17) and sack test dummy (32) in his 8 ½ games.

 

The key here is that while the 49ers have looked better since Singletary took over at head coach, they have also been playing NFC West weaklings. Now they hit the road against a team loaded with Pro Bowl talent and ready to resume their Super Bowl march. A lot of people are throwing dirt on the Cowboys, but they play four more at home including this one. Their two road games are at Pittsburgh and a finale at Philadelphia who should be out of it by then. I still see 10 wins and a wild card for them. It’s unfortunate to lose rookie running back Felix Jones, but did you see Marion Barber take over at the end against the Redskins? Just wait until the passing game starts utilizing the “other” Roy Williams: Dallas 27, San Francisco 13

 

Tampa Bay (7-3) @ Detroit (0-10): pick DET +9/under 42.5

 

Time is running out for the Lions to get a victory. It’s pretty scary to consider this might be their best chance remaining or at the very least towards the top of the list. They obviously know how to attack the Bucs because their head coach spent a decade there. I’m not sure he really has the personnel to get it done. Culpepper did perform better in his second outing after being signed off the street. He wasn’t literally on a street corner I presume, but that’s the term used for some weird reason. He was 20/35 for 207 yards, but turned the ball over 3 times and took 3 sacks in a 31-22 loss at Carolina. Two of his turnovers led to short field touchdowns. The defense was more responsible for the loss though considering two Panthers, Stewart and Williams, combined for 250 yards rushing on 29 carries. Tampa Bay won’t be able to repeat that production. Their leading rusher Graham is out for the season. Dunn played hurt last week in a win over Minnesota. The status of Cadillac Williams is murky.

 

Still, I’ve always liked Dunn’s playmaking ability on turf. He should be the catalyst for Tampa Bay’s offense. This team has played very well on the road all season. They are just 2-3, but the losses were by 4, 3 and 4 points. The Lions have been beaten soundly three times while going 0-4 at home. Perhaps the chorus of boos fails to inspire much effort. They also fall behind frequently. In 2004-2005 it was hard to imagine Garcia would be outshining Culpepper in 2008. Culpepper missed out on the 2004 MVP only because Peyton Manning threw 49 touchdown passes. Garcia exited a one year stint in Cleveland to join these Lions in 2005. Six appearances later he was out. Then he led the Eagles and Bucs to the playoffs and I would expect him to be a bit fired up to remind these fans their failure in 2005 wasn’t on his shoulders. I can see how this game might turn into a colossal upset, but more likely the Bucs turn in an efficient road victory. They will capitalize on Culpepper turnovers and find someone to run right over this defense: Tampa Bay 24, Detroit 17

 

Minnesota (5-5) @ Jacksonville (4-6): pick JAX -1/under 41

 

These are two teams in desperate need of a win after entering the season with high expectations. The Vikings put their fate in the hands of Gus Frerotte after starting 0-2, but the past three weeks he has failed to throw for 200 yards and looked more like Tarvaris Jackson on the stat sheet. On the season he has 11 touchdown passes against 12 turnovers. Still, the team is in a tie for the NFC North lead. The Jaguars don’t have the luxury of a weak division. They were so confident of their ability to make a run that on draft day they put a heavy emphasis on pass rushers taking Harvey and Groves early on. The pair has combined for only 3 sacks. In free agency they signed Jerry Porter and traded with these Vikings for Troy Williamson. That duo has 11 receptions combined. However, the Jags are starting to gain some traction running the football.

 

Their offensive line has been beaten up, but it’s getting healthier and better. The past two weeks Taylor and Jones-Drew have totaled 58 carries for 274 yards with nearly identical carries/yards. Now they face a formidable Viking defensive line. Last week I thought it would be enough to score an upset over another Florida team, Tampa Bay, but instead ageless Warrick Dunn plugged away 20 times for 53 yards (2.7 average) and more importantly had 65 yards receiving. This duo is going to do more damage. On the other side of things Adrian Peterson will be getting his yards. However, while Jacksonville’s pass defense has taken their hits I don’t know if the Vikings can really take full advantage of it. Berrian is their biggest threat and at times he has disappeared. Losing to Tennessee really put Jacksonville’s back against the wall, but while it’s unlikely they win out for a 10-6 finish I also wouldn’t rule it out. The Vikings for whatever reason haven’t gotten it done on the road. If they pull this one out shame on me for not waiting a week to pick them to win in Florida, but I think the Jags have enough fight left in them to get this game: Jacksonville 20, Minnesota 16

 

Chicago (5-5) @ St. Louis (2-8): pick STL +9.5/over 43

 

If it’s any indication of how little interest I have in this game my first thought is that both of these cities used to be home to the football Cardinals back in the day. The Bears turned in an ugly performance last week at Green Bay and in two short weeks have gone from front-runners to potentially falling off the map in the NFC playoff hunt. This is the middle of a three game road trip and by the end of it their season might be effectively over if they aren’t careful. The Rams are done, but it remains to be seen if they will relish the role of spoiler. Their last three games have been wipeouts so it doesn’t appear they will.

 

Let’s cut right to it. Chicago can really stop the run and St. Louis can’t. The Bears feature Matt Forte who is 10 yards shy of Tennessee’s Chris Johnson for the lead among NFL rookies. The Rams won’t have Steven Jackson. If St. Louis has any chance it’s against a defense allowing the third most passing yards (249.3) per game in the NFL. Bulger had 295 yards last week, but it took him 53 passes to get there and a lot of it came with his team down big at San Francisco. He has been slumping badly and might be without left tackle Orlando Pace protecting his blind side. For the Bears it was a nice effort from Orton playing hurt, but the result was a 37-3 loss. This week he won’t be called upon to win the game. Chicago will run the ball a ton. The Rams have the ability to keep this one close if they can hit some big passes, and I think they will. It won’t be nearly enough to put them over the top though. It’s worth noting this is the fourth game in a domed stadium for the Bears on the season and a fifth comes next week at Minnesota. They are 2-1 with a close 22-20 setback at Atlanta as the only blemish. I don’t think they’re ready to throw a dome on Soldier Field just yet, but they’re getting used to temperature control: Chicago 27, St. Louis 20

 

Oakland (2-8) @ Denver (6-4): pick DEN -8.5/under 43.5

 

The season opened for these teams with the Broncos delivering a humiliating 41-14 win on national television in the Black Hole. A couple of months later much has change, and in a rivalry game there is always a chance the outcome reverses completely. One major change is cornerback opposite of Asomugha for the Raiders. Chris Johnson has been tremendous in taking over for DeAngelo Hall who was toasted by rookie Eddie Royal in the first meeting. Denver also won’t be looking at the same stable of running backs they had on opening night. Injuries have forced them to sign previously unemployed Tatum Bell. The team known for turning unknown players into 1,000 yard rushers now will be looking at another season without a player over that plateau for a second straight year. Ironically Bell’s 2006 campaign was their last player over that mark (1,025).

 

Both teams will be looking to run in this game knowing the opposing defense is towards the bottom of the NFL in yards per carry allowed. Oakland rookie Darren McFadden is hampered, but might be healthy enough to show why he was picked #4 overall. On the other side it might be his former blocker at Arkansas, Peyton Hillis, getting looks carrying the ball. Another interesting aspect is that McFadden’s new blocker is Michael Bush who isn’t exactly embracing his emergency role at fullback. His attitude reflects the lack of discipline among the Raiders. In stark contrast Denver just got an amazing performance out of Spencer Larsen who started at both fullback and middle linebacker. These are the differences between a team fighting their way into first place and another fading into last place.

 

Jay Cutler isn’t going to carve up Oakland’s defense like he did the first time. He will make the plays necessary to win the game. The Raiders have a hatred for the Broncos and even in apparent mismatches often show up big. Other times they look like they don’t even belong on the same field. This time, away from the national television audience I don’t believe Shanahan is as likely to rub it in with a rout. The Raider defense kept them alive last week in Miami and will make a similar run this week into the third quarter: Denver 23, Oakland 12

 

Carolina (8-2) @ Atlanta (6-4): pick CAR +1.5/over 41.5

 

I wasn’t terribly surprised to see the Falcons falter last week even if I did pick them to win. They were playing above their heads most of the season. Let’s not forget half of their wins came at the expense of Detroit, Kansas City and Oakland who have combined for 3 wins. The Panthers just stumbled past two of those teams and looked pretty bad in the process. Jake Delhomme was a combined 17/46 for 174 yards with 2 touchdowns and 4 interceptions while beating the Raiders and Lions. It’s a good thing this team can run behind DeAngelo Williams and stud rookie Jonathan Stewart. The Panthers are sixth in the NFL with 133.7 yards per game. The Falcons are even better (153.4, #2) behind free agent star Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood. The duos have almost identical totals in yards and touchdowns. The tie is really broken by defense, and it’s bad news for the Falcons. They are ahead of only the two aforementioned bad teams (Detroit, Kansas City) with 4.9 yards per carry allowed. Carolina is in the middle (4.0) of the pack.

 

The first time around both teams struggled to run the ball, but Atlanta got a big 40 yard run from Norwood to skew their stats. Carolina’s backfield plugged away with 109 yards on 30 carries. Turner had just 3.1 yards per rush. The 24-9 final was a bit deceiving. The Panthers really won on two big touchdown passes to Smith (56 yards) and Muhammad (36 yards). Now that Atlanta has lost their first home game I feel a little more confident predicting their season to take another turn towards reality. Matt Ryan is still a rookie. The more film teams get on him the better prepared they will be to force him into mistakes. Carolina should be able to get the better of it rushing the ball again. Delhomme has already touched up this defense for 294 yards and the Panthers have won their last three in the Georgia Dome: Carolina 26, Atlanta 23

 

NY Giants (9-1) @ Arizona (7-3): pick AZ +3.5/under 49

 

It’s interesting that both New York teams are involved in similar games this week. On one side is the best team in the conference and on the other side is a 7-3 team trying to spring an upset. The Giants right now are a wrecking ball having taken a stranglehold on the toughest division in the NFL. Things can change quickly though, and three division games in a row await them. Two of those are on the road and despite their recent success outside of New Jersey a reversal of fortune is certainly possible. The Cardinals are similarly in charge of their division, but it’s easily the worst in the NFL. If the 49ers lose at Dallas earlier in the day a win here would actually give them the NFC West title based on sweeping San Francisco and holding a five game lead with five to play. Delivering the upset won’t be easy.

 

Kurt Warner is having another MVP type season and really kicked his game into high gear after the bye week. He has thrown for 381, 343, 328 and 395 yards with 8 touchdowns against 2 interceptions. This is already the fifth best season of his career if he doesn’t play another snap. However, he faces the challenge of an active defensive line ready to pressure him. His weakness has always been turnovers and to a lesser extent sacks. The Giants bring 31 sacks to the table. Only four teams allow a lower completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks (56.7%)  and only three have more interceptions (14). New York’s defense has been nothing short of spectacular most of the season. On offense the Giants lead the NFL with 5.3 yards per rush, way ahead of the next best team at 4.6. If their bruiser Brandon Jacobs can’t go it hurts, but “Wind & Fire” can compensate if the “Earth” isn’t able to move. Arizona’s defense has been pretty good against the run and would definitely prefer to have Eli Manning beat them. He hasn’t thrown for 200 yards since week 5, mostly because the team hasn’t needed it. He does have a touchdown pass in every game since the opener and just two starts with multiple turnovers. One of those was a 35-14 win over Dallas.

 

A lot of signs point to an upset in the desert. Jacobs is ailing. Warner is surging. Burress just missed practice. I don’t buy it. The Cardinals can’t run the football. When a team has a lack of balance going up against a solid defense it really shows. Edgerrin James actually asked for his release. Maybe he figures he can latch on with a contender willing to use him more. Rookie Tim Hightower isn’t going to do a thing against New York’s front line. Warner has thrown 42+ passes in five of Arizona’s last seven games. Somehow only one of those, a six turnover debacle against the Jets, has produced more than one interception. It’s going to be a good game, but if Dallas can nearly win in this building with emotions running high I believe the better NFC East team will get it done: NY Giants 24, Arizona 21

 

Washington (6-4) @ Seattle (2-8): pick WAS -3/over 40

 

It will be a strange homecoming for Jim Zorn. He leads his Redskins against the team he once led. Perhaps stranger is the fact that earlier this calendar year these teams met in the playoffs and the Seahawks won 35-14. Ten months later Seattle is a shell of the team that has dominated the NFC West in recent seasons and went to Super Bowl XL. Washington is firmly in the wild card chase again even with consecutive losses including last week’s gut wrenching 14-10 defeat at the hands of the hated Cowboys. Typically Seattle can be counted on for a strong effort at home. In 2007 they were 8-1 at home and despite losing four of five this season they did put up a fight against Arizona last week. Hasselbeck’s return produced 3 interceptions though, and the running game stalled.

 

The key to this game is Washington’s ability to run the ball. Portis is a little banged up, but the offensive line has this team averaging 4.6 yards per carry. I actually think the rushing in this game will be fairly even unless Portis plays like he isn’t hurt. Seattle has a decent run defense and pretty good rush offense led by Julius Jones. The offense for the Seahawks should balance out more with Branch and Engram back at wide receiver. It has been a month since Jason Campbell last tasted victory on October 26 thanks to a pair of losses sandwiched around a bye week. His confidence might be a bit shaken, and this is a hostile environment. He was injured during the playoff loss and will be making his first appearance at Seattle. I think it’s a tight game throughout. The Seahawks aren’t going down easily on their home field even if the season is lost. The Redskins need this one desperately and might not get it, but I’ve been taking a beating lately going with upsets so I think they pull this one out: Washington 24, Seattle 20

 

Indianapolis (6-4) @ San Diego (4-6): pick IND +3/over 48.5

 

This is the last stand for the Chargers. They were jobbed by a bad call against Denver or they’d be leading the division on a tiebreaker instead of virtually three games behind. Losing this game will put them in the position of needing a complete collapse from the Broncos. Somehow the Colts have found a way to battle through this season and hang tough in the battle for a wild card. They have done so by escaping two high scoring games with Houston while gutting out close wins over Minnesota, New England and Pittsburgh. The Colts are now 5-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less including their past three wins. Obviously the Chargers wish they had that kind of luck, but they aren’t the team with a horseshoe on their helmet. Instead it’s a lightning bolt and they must feel like lightning keeps striking them in the back side. They are 1-5 in games decided by a touchdown or less.

 

Things can turn around in a hurry for San Diego on their home field where they play the next three games. The next two are against Atlanta and Oakland who are both led by young quarterbacks. A sweep would keep them very much alive, especially if Denver loses a road game against the Jets. Before they can worry about that they have to beat the Colts. Maybe they should pretend Indy still plays in the AFC East. San Diego crushed the Jets (48-29) and Patriots (30-10) on this field already. I don’t think it will help. Their pass defense has been lit up for an NFL worst 267.0 yards per game. Peyton has this offense back in high gear now that the offensive line is straightening out. It was an incredible fight in the elements at Pittsburgh last week for this San Diego defense, but the nice California weather might be their enemy this week. Peyton hasn’t thrown an interception over the last three games spanning 115 attempts. The loss of Merriman really took away the San Diego pass rush.

 

Aside from Peyton having a big day the Colts as a team will be out for revenge after the Chargers knocked them from the playoffs with a stunning 28-24 win to close the RCA Dome. They did it without Rivers or Tomlinson being on the field at the end. A very overlooked stat this season is that the Colts have given up only two touchdown passes against 10 interceptions. Teams complete an unruly 69% of their passes, but obviously not for big plays. San Diego needs the balance of Tomlinson and I just don’t know if he’s up for dominating a game. He keeps putting up solid numbers in total yards, but can’t score touchdowns. It’s the difference between being a great team like they were the past two seasons and being out of it in 2008: Indianapolis 27, San Diego 24

 

Green Bay (5-5) @ New Orleans (5-5): pick GB +3/over 51

 

For a game between teams at .500 ten weeks in this should keep the viewers interested. There are a lot of angles to this game. The first is Drew Brees taking on a defense allowing an NFL low 51.5% completion percentage. The Packers also have the most interceptions (16) and third fewest yards allowed (176.3). The Saints lead the NFL with 325.1 passing yards per game. They also have the most attempts per game (39.8) but somehow have given up just 8 sacks all season. If Brees starts throwing interceptions or can’t find open receivers it could get ugly in a hurry. At least he’ll have the fans on his side. Well, if they can remember what the team looks like. Because of a “home” game in London and a bye week the Saints haven’t been in their own stadium since beating Oakland 34-3 on October 12. Green Bay is also feeling some road blues because this is their third road game this month. The previous two were losses.

 

Aaron Rodgers will be playing in a dome for the third time this season having already won at Detroit and lost at Minnesota. He faces a defense giving up a lot of yards passing (235.2) but a low completion percentage (56.7). The Saints are without three cornerbacks and will have a tough time finding players to cover Packer receivers. Driver has missed time due to personal issues and it’s possible he won’t play in which case rookie Jordy Nelson might see more action. The bigger boost to their offense is Ryan Grant getting his legs under him. Last week he carried 25 times for 145 yards in the blowout of Chicago. He had a pair of 30+ carry games in mid-October and is helping this offense keep the opposing defense guessing.

 

The Saints actually need to run the ball if they hope to stay in this game. Green Bay has allowed 4.9 yards per rush this season. McAllister and Thomas didn’t too much against an even worse run defense last week in Kansas City though, combining for 106 yards on 24 carries. Grant is on a bigger roll, and while it’s tough to bet against Brees in a high scoring game I think Rodgers will have an absolute field day against these corners: Green Bay 34, New Orleans 27

 

 

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